The regulative principle

More on the Regulative principle of Worship by Scott Bushey
Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

6 So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.
Gen 4

Random thoughts:

First off, I want to make clear that it is my understanding that the Regulative principle has always been. Much like the Decalogue. To think otherwise, would be a logical fallacy.
Surely the main component here is that Abel did not offer his sacrifice in faith. Hebrews confirms this. However, there is much more than meets the eye.

In the book of Hebrews, it says that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin. Could Cain have known this?

I am sure Abel and his brother rec’d this information from their parents.  This would make logical sense in light of the fact that after the fall, God sacrificed an animal and clothed Adam and Eve. It would be odd that God did not explain to the couple what He did and why. How can one judge without explaining what one is being judged on; You may eat from all the tree’s in the garden except the one in the center-if you do, “you surely will die”. Directive and judgment.
It is interesting to note that Abel’s sacrifice included ‘fat portions’. God’s word emphasised this for a reason.

“Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat.”


~Think deeply about this; How could Abel know to offer ‘fat’? Because, he knew the RPW! God had clarified this somewhere along the lines to the federal head, Adam. Adam was the first priest.


Additionally, ‘fat’ is all over the temple sacrifices; It would seem too random to notate this in Genesis unless God informed them of this process.


1 Sam 15: But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.


Isaiah 1:11 “The multitude of your sacrifices–what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.”


17But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall dash their blood on the altar, and shall turn their fat into smoke as an offering by fire for a pleasing odor to the LORD; (Num. 18:15-17)


He shall take the fat around and inside the entrails, the kidney with its fat, the liver and kidneys, and burn them upon the altar of burnt offering.

8And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall take from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails,

9and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver which he shall take away with the kidneys

10(just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings), and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of burnt offering. (Lev. 4: 8-10)

Robert Reymond writes:

“Abel showed that he understood the principle of the necessity of substitutionary blood atonement when “by faith he offered a better sacrifice than Cain did” (Gen. 4:3–5; Heb. 11:4). His offering from the flock, its death typifying the “Seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15) who in crushing the serpent’s head would himself be fatally wounded, doubtless reflected what the Holy Spirit had taught him through his parents’ instructions concerning the significance of the protevangelium, his need for a blood “covering” before God, and the relationship between the two.”


Excerpt From:

Reymond, Robert. “A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith.”


The other important thing to note was that God rebukes Cain. Even though Cain lacked faith and God knew this, he still rebukes him, showing that there was additional problems with his offering that went beyond his lack of faith.


Calvin writes:
“When each offers something of his property, there is a solemn giving of thanks, as if he would testify by his present act that he owes to God whatever he possesses. But the sacrifice of cattle and the effusion of blood contains something further, namely, that the offerer should have death before his eyes; and should, nevertheless, believe in God as propitious to him.”


M. Henry writes:

“2. There was a difference in the offerings they brought. It is expressly said (Hebrews 11:4), Abel’s was a more excellent sacrifice than Cain’s: either, (1.) In the nature of it. Cain’s was only a sacrifice of acknowledgment offered to the Creator; the meat-offerings of the fruit of the ground were no more, and, for aught I know, they might be offered in innocency. But Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, the blood whereof was shed in order to remission, thereby owning himself a sinner, deprecating God’s wrath, and imploring his favour in a Mediator.”

*John L. Girardeau: “Gen. 4.: Cain and his offering. The brothers, Cain and Abel, had been in childhood beyond all doubt instructed by their parents in the knowledge of the first promise of redemption to be accomplished by atonement. They had, we have every reason to believe, often seen their father offering animal sacrifices in the worship of God. To this mode of worship they had been accustomed. Cain, the type of rationalists and fabricators of rites and ceremonies in the house of the Lord, consulted his own wisdom and taste, and ventured to offer in God’s worship the fruit of the ground—an un-bloody sacrifice; while Abel, conforming to the appointments and prescribed usages in which he had been trained, expressed his faith and obedience by offering a lamb. Abel’s worship was accepted and Cain’s rejected. “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and his offering he had not respect.” Thus, in the immediate family of Adam, we behold a signal and typical instance of self-assertion and disregard of divine prescriptions in the matter of worship. This was swiftly followed by God’s disapprobation, and then came the development of sin in the atrocious crime of fratricide, and the banishment of the murderer from the communion of his family and the presence of his God.”
* John L. Girardeau, Southern Presbyterian minister, was born on November 14, 1825 and died on June 23, 1898. A notable leader in the Southern Presbyterian Church, he was born of French Huguenot ancestory. He wrote many books and articles on a multitude of subjects, notably against the innovation of musical instruments in the Christian worship of God and concerning the discretionary power of the Church.

Thomas Doolittle writes on Gen. 4.4: “It is not said what outward testimony it was, whereby God did declare this respect and acceptance of Abel’s offering, whereby Cain did perceive that Abel and his offering were pleasing unto God, when himself and his offering were both rejected. It is conceived that fire came down from heaven, and consumed Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s offering; and by this sign God did discover his acceptance of the sacrifices in following ages. (Lev. ix.24; 1 Kings xviii.38; 1 Chron. xxi.26; 2 Chron. vii.1.) But if this had not been by God’s own appointment, it would not have pleased him; for will-worship God is not delighted in. If it had not been commanded by God, it had not been obedience in Abel; and if it had not been obedience, it would have been been pleasing to God: for, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. xv.22)”

In Hebrews 12 God compares Christ’s blood with ‘the blood of Abel’s. This comparison is not towards the death of Abel but the shedding of bulls and goats Abel sacrificed compared to Christ’s death and blood.

This is the key passage proving that the family of Adam knew what to do.

22 But you have come to eMount Zion and to the city of the living God, fthe heavenly Jerusalem, and to ginnumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to hthe assembly1 of the firstborn who are ienrolled in heaven, and to jGod, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, kthe mediator of a new covenant, and to lthe sprinkled blood mthat speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

G.I. Williamson writes:

We begin, then, by considering a few examples of what the Old Testament teaches.

[1] And the first is found in Genesis 4, where we read of the worship of Cain and Abel.

The passage tells us that Cain’s worship was rejected by God, while that of Abel was accepted. It also tells us that God’s reason for rejecting Cain and accepting Abel was not only a difference within the two brothers. It was not only the fact that something was wrong with the subjective attitude of Cain, as compared with the attitude of Abel. There was also a vital difference in the objective content of their worship. That is why God had respect not only to Abel but also to his offering.(3) Abel offered what God was pleased to accept, whereas Cain did not. The reason for this, in my view, is that Abel gave serious consideration to the revelation that God had given up to that time in history, while Cain treated it lightly. It is possible, of course, that God gave direct revelation to Abel. But I think it more likely that he acted on the basis of the same revelational data that we ourselves have in the first three chapters of Genesis. When God covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve with animal skins, it is self-evident that the animals must have first been killed for this purpose (Gen. 3:21). From this Abel could have deduced(4) that his only hope of acceptance with God was by the sacrifice of a dying substitute. But even if we take the view that Abel just happened to hit on ‘the right way of worship’ by intuition, it still leads to the same conclusion. For as soon as God accepted Abel and his sacrifice — while rejecting Cain and his offering — by that very fact He made it perfectly clear that the acceptable way of worship was the way of Abel. But even though Cain knew this, he wasn’t willing to worship God in that acceptable way. It is no exaggeration at all, then, to say that this was Cain’s downfall: he was not willing to limit himself to worship that had God’s approval.(5) We therefore see a clear principle: worship which is not sanctioned by God is forbidden.

The other thing that is important is that God has always required blood to approachHim:

1 Now the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the Lord, and died; 2 and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.

3 “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering. 4 He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering. Lev 15


Moreover those who were to camp before the tabernacle on the east, before the tabernacle of meeting, were Moses, Aaron, and his sons, keeping charge of the sanctuary, to meet the needs of the children of Israel; but the outsider who came near was to be put to death. Num 38

So much more can be said on this subject; Christ fulfilled that requirement once and for all. We are now able to approach God boldly.


Large orchestra’s. Plays and puppet shows. Flag waving and dancing. Movie presentations. Psalm singing. Hymns. Instruments. 1 plinking piano. Organs-you must have a pipe organ or you are not worshipping properly. “I used to worship over at Church ABC-the worship there was dead-I like ours better-they organ does it for me”.

All true worship is God centered. Can one blow this? Surely, one could define ‘God centered’ wrongly. One way would be to try and understand ‘God centered’ outside of Christ. The Jew, for instance, does not have Christ. Can they worship in a God centered way? Impossible. How could they? Well, you might respond, ‘Scott, do not they hold the OT dear to their hearts?” My answer, sure; however, there is no mediation. Jesus Himself said, One mediator between God and Christ and that the man Christ Jesus. This poses a problem.

I come from a Charismatic background; Worship is much different in the Charismatic realm than the way the Reformed worship God. Is there error? Can men imagine how God is to be approached? Does Gods word convey to men how he is to be worshipped or does he leave it up to the vain imaginations of His created?

John 4:24
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

True worship of God is what is commanded in scripture, false worship or will worship is not.

A close friend of mine once said, “It should be seen as appropriate at that house of God be ordered by God’s rules.”

Think about the rules that went along with the building of the temple.

What is Worship to you? There is personal worship, family worship, corporate worship.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks (in Q. 96) “What does God require in the second commandment?” The answer is: “That we in no wise make any image of God, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded.”

Is there a direct command in scripture that defines clearly to believers how to worship God rightly? No. Is there a direct command in scripture that tells us that we should be baptizing infants? No. Sure, we have the Abrahamic covenant and the positive command to place the sign on our children, i.e. circumcision; however, do we see the positive command telling us to change circumcision to water baptism in the sign? No. One needs to understand the distinction in that many things we do are by prescription or institution. There are many things in scripture that we conclude based on what’s called necessary inference.  This is the taking of a mass of thoughts and come to a conclusion. Example:

1) Paedobaptism

2) The Trinity

3) The Covenant of grace and redemption

4) The change in the sabbath from the last day of the week to the first day

5) Woman taking the supper

6) The local church vs the Universal Church

7) The Regulative Principle

8) Membership

9) Baptism of adult children belonging to Christian parents

10) Mode of baptism

11) Church Polity

Based on this rationale, we will look at proper worship and what our forefathers in the faith held dear in regards to this lofty subject. This class will be divided into two classes. This week we will establish that there is an ordinance commanded by God , i.e. The Regulative Principle; Are you familiar with this term? Essentially it is a term used to describe the biblical thought on how we worship God. We will attempt to get an idea of what this is over the next two weeks.

The Regulative Principle was given its classical and definitive statement in the reformed Confessions formulated in the 17th century. It is stated in Chapter 21 paragraph 1 in the Westminster Confession:

The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

One has to start with an attribute of God. The scriptures tell us that God is Holy. In fact, to deepen the meaning, the call God Holy, Holy, Holy. Surely in this age, we have deafened the claim. The fear and the awe of God has been displaced with a god that is weak, schizophrenic and tolerant of all things. He is a puppet of sorts.  To understand this principle, one needs a proper understanding of God.

Scripture tells us that God is sprit; Jesus confirms it when he rebukes Thomas and tells him, “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as you see I have; come feel”.

Scripture also says that no man could see God and live. God exposed his glory to Moses for a split seconds and it caused Moses to go grey!

God is Perfect. His Holiness is perfect; we talked of this perfection in weeks passed.

The regulative principle is a reflection of Gods Holiness.

Obviously, this is not an easy task; Churches and individual believers across the globe and time can’t seem to agree. As I mentioned when I opened this study, there are so many things being done in quest of bringing God proper worship. In this age, there are even reformed folk lighting candles and lighting incense according to OT principals of Worship. The key in all of this is the 2nd commandment; Lets look at that and ponder what it says:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Exodus 20:4-6

Think about Cains offering. The Golden Calf and how God rec’d that. What about Adab and Abihu?

Genesis 4
Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of uthe fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of vthe firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord whad regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but xfor Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 yIf you do well, will you not be accepted?1 And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. zIts desire is for2 you, but you must rule over it.”

What happened here; God decrees that Cain be a worker of the field. He offers his best fruits-why was it rejected?

OFFERINGS TO GOD ARE NOT BY THE IMAGINATION OF MEN.  Cain knew well what the principle was. In His laziness, he refused to submit. Maybe he wanted the blood for himself for food. Maybe he didn’t have the offering for some odd reason. Whatever the case, he missed the mark.

Hebrews 11 says:
4 By faith hAbel offered to God ia more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.

It is important to note, as I described earlier, that faith is a important component; the Jew has a faith that is not in Christ.

The Calf:

32 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods,[b] Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

33 The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”

35 And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.

Who is Nadab and Abihu? They were the sons of Aaron. Aaron was a priest-this makes their sons priests in lineage.

Offering of strange fire:

Lev 10
1 Now yNadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, zeach took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered aunauthorized1 fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire bcame out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among cthose who are near me dI will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ”eAnd Aaron held his peace.

Calvin writes:
“I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his Word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His Worship, if at variance with his command, what do we gain by a contrary course?”

Matt 15
8 o“ ‘This people honors me with their lips, 
but their heart is far from me; 
9 in vain do they worship me, 
teaching as pdoctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

I want to qualify that there is no longer temple sacrifices; Christ fulfilled all of those requirements once and for all. The principle has changed to some degrees.

The ultimate question may be, does Christ perfect all forms of our worship? Some in certain sects of Christianity might hold to this rationale. I would have to say no, else why did Christ not intervene on behalf of these people spoken of earlier.

At this point, we have established a biblical precedence for the RPW. The question now would be, how do we practically fulfill it.
In our corporate setting, after our announcements, there is an official call to worship. At this point, we are under the scrutiny of Gods mercy in that we can only hope and pray what we are offering up is not an assault oh this principle.